The S80 offers a choice of engines: a powerful V8 and two six-cylinder engines, including a new T6 turbocharged six-cylinder.
Built by Yamaha, the V8 sounds like a Corvette engine when it first starts up then settles to a smooth idle. It's smooth and creamy when cruising and very responsive. At high speeds the S80 is quiet and smooth. Its performance (0-60 in 6.5 seconds) should please most buyers, especially when the weather turns bad and the all-wheel drive can shine.
Steering effort and chassis settings are adjustable, allowing the driver to adjust for smooth, soft sailing or taut control for more responsive handling. We found the car handles quite well for a large luxury car.
Inside is a sumptuous cabin with comfortable seats, Bang and Olufsen audio, and an available navigation system. Adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain set following distances with the cars ahead: the system will accelerate or slow the car as needed.
The S80 is loaded with safety equipment, from its protective structure to its state-of-the-art active and passive safety features.
We think the S80 is the best overall car ever to come out of Sweden, slick, modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful. It's relatively sporty and there aren't any rough edges on this package anywhere.
Volvo S80 ($38.705); AWD; T6 AWD ($42,045); V8 AWD ($49,210)
It's not as long as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a Cadillac STS.
The S80 features a large grille opening, a sporty bumper and under-grille treatment, large headlamps, a domed hood, a whole new rear end treatment with large taillamps and a sportier bumper, a roof that works better in the wind tunnel, and body sides that are free of moldings.
The switches, controls and instruments follow traditional Volvo design themes, but everything is contemporary, including the tachometer and speedometer, more classic and less industrial than the previous design.
The navigation system, when ordered, pops up out of the dashtop, either by using the new steering-wheel-mounted controls on the right rear of the wheel or the provided remote control, which stores in the console. We found the steering wheel controls a bit fussy and hard to use, but owners will figure them out quickly.
A menu system tailors the seats, rearview mirrors, climate control, audio, navigation, and, the amount of steering wheel feel in the car's speed-dependent power steering system.
The sumptuous surroundings in the S80 are amplified by the wonderfully comfortable seats and the extra front and rear legroom that Volvo hopes will help to put the new car squarely into the luxury class. The seats are available plain, heated, or heated and cooled.
The 160-watt, eight-speaker sound system will play MP3 files and has an auxiliary input for iPods and other players. Volvo will also offer a five-channel, 13-speaker Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system developed in-house with Bang & Olufsen and Dynaudio.
We were impressed with the V8 engine, which sounds like a Corvette when first fired up in the morning then settles down to a nice, smooth idle. This engine is a Yamaha-designed 60-degree V8 with balance shafts, so it doesn't sound like a conventional 90-degree V8. It's smooth and creamy all the way up the rev range to 6500 rpm, and for its relatively small displacement, it pulls very well and can easily sustain speeds of 135 mph on the open road. The V8 gets an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg City/Highway.
The six-cylinder engine gets an EPA-rated 16/24 mpg (with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive). The T6 is rated at 15/23 miles per gallon.
At high cruising speeds, the cabin is quiet, with a bit of wind noise off the tires and a bit of tire noise coming in.
The Volvo chassis system underneath the S80 is an evolution of the 4C chassis, with adaptive shock absorbers changing second by second according to inputs from the road and the car itself. The system offers three different settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced.
Steering effort is adjustable, and we found the firmest setting to be ideal for our tastes: hefty and solid, the way we like our steering. With the steering set this way and the Advanced settings plugged into the chassis system, the Volvo was a paragon of driving for the sheer fun of it, taut, quick to react, and flat in the corners, with the V8 engine always ready to play.
We experienced the adaptive cruise control system, which worked as advertised to maintain our preset distance to the car ahead in the fast lane, and we heard and saw the collision warning system mounted directly in front of the driver on the dashtop, a system which we quickly silenced on the crowded two-lane roads.
We found the brakes powerful and quick and positive when used hard from high speeds (100 mph).
Modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful, the Volvo S80 is an excellent choice among luxury sedans. It's surefooted stance and solid on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system that comes on most models adds to an impressive safety package.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Sweden, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia.